Basic Farming Question

I live in the suburbs in Northern California and I have grown a “kitchen garden” in my backyard since I was a little kid. We grew the standard fare… tomatos, onions, carrots, pumpkins, zuchini etc. I even was able to grow watermelons once, although they were puny and inedible.

Anyway, to the question at hand…

For the first time I tried to grow corn in my garden. I planted them about 2 months ago from seedlings. Don’t ask me what variety.

Anyway it’s done pretty well… the stalks are 5 to 6 feet tall with the tassle thingies on the top and everything. I see a fair number of ears have developed, and I have patiently watch them get bigger and bigger over the past few weeks. The question is how will I know when they are ready to pick? They are about 2 inches in diameter at their widest point, but compared to the fresh corn I see at the supermarket they seem a little small. Is there a way to check to see if they are “done” growing? I want to pick them before the deer eat them.

Any suggestions?

My general rule of thumb for corn is to examine one of the cobs when the silks (the soft tassels at the top of the cob) have just turned brown and dried out a little - they will be just about ‘done’ at this point and leaving them on the plant longer will just result in them going starchy - they won’t get any bigger.

For future crops:
-When you plant them out, set each one in the middle of a little ‘dish’ in the soil soil - this way, you can water by just filling up the ‘dish’ and the water will soak down to the right place.
-Water frequently and copiously
-When the male (the spiky bits at the tops of the plants) are producing pollen, walk amongst the plants daily and give them all a little shake to disperse the pollen
-Plant in blocks, rather than a long row, because they are wind-pollenated (you probably already know this)

What Mangetout said. When the silks turn brown, they’re done. You can peel back the shucks a bit on one to check if needed.

BTW, I have never seen corn planted from seedlings. We always used seeds and never had any problems. FWIW, if you leave the corn until it is completely dried out and the shucks are all quite browned and dry (and the deer don’t get it), you will have dried corn which can be ground into cornmeal or saved to plant in the spring. I have also planted Indian corn (the decorative colored varieties that are used in centerpieces around Thanksgiving) with fair results. I have yet to try planting popcorn, but I imagine it would work as well.

Hey! Finally, a GQ that I can answer!

The ears should feel firm, not hard, not squishy. The silks should be mostly brownish, but not totally brown (think bleached blonde who needs a root touch-up, but in reverse). Peel back the husks on one ear, and the corn kernels should retain a dent from your thumbnail. If not, they aren’t finished yet, so put the husks back and let 'em grow more. If you puncture a kernel and a drop of milky liquid comes out, pick ‘em all right away, that very minute, because they’re ready.

Yellow or white corn, may I ask?

If you aren’t sure what kind of corn it is, it may not be all that tasty to prepare and eat, like sweet corn. It might be pop corn!!! :smiley:

And if you find that they are ready (via MissGypsy’s or anyone else’s method), return to the kitchen immediately. Get a big pot of water on the stove and turn up the heat under it. Return to the garden. Pick as many ears of corn as you can eat. You can shuck them right there in the garden & leave the husks on the ground. By the time you get back inside with your corn, the water should be boiling merrily. Put the corn in, wait about 5 minutes and enjoy. Mmmmm. You will never be able to enjoy “store-bought” corn again.

Thanks for the tips! I believe it is white (sweet) corn but I didn’t keep the info I got from the store when I bought them. The seedlings were about 6-8 inches tall when I planted them and they grew extremely fast. It’s been a fairly mild summer here so far (no days over 85 degrees yet) and I water freqently.


I’ve always planted them out as seedlings, but that’s because I’m in the UK - starting them in peat pots (that can be planted out later without disturbing the roots) allows me to start them under glass to get a head start on the growing season, then plant out when all risk of frost has passed.
It’s also useful in places where pests are a problem - the stalks and leaves of eight-inch-tall corn seedlings will be coarser/tougher and less attractive to slugs and snails.

As a 4H project we started about 50 plants in a greenhouse.
When the soil warmed enough we planted them along with another acre or so of seeds.
The result:
Both the plants started early and the plants from seed matured at the same time.
It did no good to start plants early.
In corn plants maturity is governed by what is called heat units.
I don’t understand it completely so I can’t explain it.
If my son who works for Pioneer Seed was here he could explain.
It has something to do with how much heat the plant gets at the right time.

That must be where this saying came from:

It’s so hot you can hear the corn grow.


About that Indian Corn. The only time I’ve seen it is in the fall. So is it regular corn that has been left on the stalk longer to get that unusual coloring? Or is it a different strain altogether? And, is it edible?

Some plants mature a certain amount of time after they germinate, others start to mature at a certain time in the year (it is triggered by the change in daylength) - with the latter group, higher yields may sometimes be achieved by starting earlier, but earlier maturity isn’t possible. I’m not sure if sweetcorn is such a plant.

It’s different from sweet corn you eat on the cob. The sweet corn you see is usually yellow or white or bi-color, there’s a slew of varieties in seed catalogs.

Is it edible? Well yes, but icky.

Sweet corn and Indian Corn (and ‘maize’, in those places where the term is used to mean something a little different) are botanically all the same species; there are varieties that are bred for their high starch content and there are other varieties that are bred for high sugar content and juiciness (when they are picked at a certain stage of development)

But if you leave ordinary sweetcorn to fully ripen on the plant, the sugars are replaced by starches and they lose the moisture content, and you have fairly ordinary maize/Indian corn, more or less.

It could still be ground into corn meal.